Johnny Depp on 48 Hours Today Fighting 4 West Memphis 3, Will He Help the Dubose Brothers?

Johnny Depp will appear this evening on CBS-TV's 48 Hours, bringing attention to the West Memphis 3, fighting against the execution of Damion Echols. 

Please watch - it's a major event for Mr. Depp to bring his celebrity power to this Death Penalty case, especially when everyone would expect Johnny Depp to be on a standard publicity campaign for his new Disney movie, "Alice in Wonderland" by Tim Burton.  I'm sure that all opponents to the death penalty are excited that a major celebrity like Johnny Depp has become involved here -- and are respectful not only of his artistic abilities but his moral commitment, as well. 

The Dubose Brothers of Jacksonville - Similar Situation as the West Memphis 3

Meanwhile, here in Florida, the Dubose Brothers are in a similar situation as the West Memphis 3 with these three African-American brothers all facing the death penalty in the murder of an 8 year old in a drive-by shooting.  It is undisputed that the drive-by was intended for a drug dealer who had robbed the oldest brother.  It is also clear that these three brothers have suffered a lifetime of abuse and neglect. 

The State's zealous prosecutor is aggressively fighting for all three brothers to be put to death.  The penalty phases of their trials will continue through the next two weeks, and is being live-blogged in a joint effort of the Times-Union and 

This case is being tried in Jacksonville, and my non-profit defense support organization, Florida Capital Resource Center, is providing whatever assistance we can to the defense attorneys in this case. (For details on how burdensome it is to represent indigent defendants in death penalty cases here in Florida, please read the assorted posts here on this topic, as well as my ongoing series of articles published at JD Supra and elsewhere.) 

E-mailed Johnny Depp's agent asking for help with the Dubose boys

Last week, Mr. Depp's agent also got an email written by Terry Lenamon, personally, not officially from the FCRC nor from the law firm, asking for his help in the Dubose Brothers case, if he could he see his way clear to do so.  

Sure, sure -- IT IS a lot to ask a celebrity who's already filming a movie (the Tourist) with Angelina Jolie, promoting a major film like Alice in Wonderland, and already taking a stand with the West Memphis 3, but Johnny Depp is known to march to a different drummer, and go his own way.  

Couldn't hurt to ask, you don't ask, you don't get ...and when you're a death-penalty criminal defense attorney, one thing you have to have a whole heck of a lotta HOPE.  Hope in justice, hope in mercy, hope in the compassion of men's souls ... because sometimes, setting in that chair in the courtroom, hanging onto HOPE is all you've got. 

Sincerest thanks to Mr. Depp for his efforts today.  We'll be watching CBS tonight, hope you will be, too.


Annual NCADP Conference Starts Today (Jan 14 - 17)

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is the only fully-staffed national organization working to abolish capital punishment in the United States.  Its annual conference starts today and runs through the weekend.   Sister Helen Prejean is the keynote speaker this year, she's always wonderful -- and if I didn't have courtroom commitments, I would love to hear Sister Helen today. 

What's the NCADP?

Formed in 1976 (yes, in conjunction with the reinstatement of the death penalty by the United States Supreme Court), the NCADP has grown to become a tremendous force in the efforts to stop government executions in our country.  (The NCADP also works toward ending capital punishment in other countries around the world.) 

From the hub of its wheel spring the various state Coalitions (New Mexico Coaltion to End the Death Penalty, Kentucky Coalition to End the Death Penalty, etc.), and through NCADP's efforts, a tremendous amount of information regarding capital punishment is corraled and distributed.  Its website alone is a treasure of current news on death row events, legislative and judicial updates, and other important items of interest to those working to end the death penalty in this country. 

What's Happening at the Conference?

This year's conference is being held in Louisville, Kentucky, and will include the following: 

The annual meeting of the NCADP isn't free - it's one of the big moneymakers for the non-profit organization, in fact.  It's definitely a worthy effort, and worth your time and money if you have any chance of getting to Louisiana over the next few days. 

Follow NCADP on Twitter as well as YouTube and its blog, Abolish the Death Penalty.

Our Prediction that California's Billy Joe Johnson Would Help the Fight Against the Death Penalty Proves True

Right before Halloween, we posted about the new Death Penalty Information Center revelation that focusing solely on a state's budget bottom line, capital punishment should be outlawed because it just costs too much -- and how Billy Joe Johnson's request to be sentenced to death in California only added fuel to that fire.  (Billy Joe wanted death because the digs at California's Death Row are so much better than those for lifers.)

Well, looks like that October prediction was right and Billy Joe Johnson is doing a lot to help the cause of Abolishing the Death Penalty. 

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog is pointing to Billy Joe Johnson in California, and publishing a quote from Johnson's attorney that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times -- Billy Jo isn't asking for Death Row because "...' he thinks conditions wiil be better, they are better," explains defense counsel Michael Molfetta. 

The Los Angeles Times has a lengthy feature article that actually goes into the details surrounding Billy Joe Johnson's decision (and yes, his request was granted and he has been sentenced to death by the State of California).   According to the LA Times, on California's Death Row:

1.  inmates get single cells, they don't have to share a two bunk cell

2. their cells are bigger than the standard maximum-security cells for lifers

3. inmates get better telephone access

4. they are allowed "contact visits"  by themselves, although the visit is in a see-through plexiglass booth (lifers have to visit in a communal hall, no one on one contact)

5.  they get breakfast and dinner served to them in their cells

6.  Lunch is served in the exercise yard, so they get to go outside daily

7.  Death Row inmates are allowed to visit with other Death Row inmates during the lunch hour

8.  Death Row inmates get to have TVs, CD Players, and the like in their cells

9. While other inmates are limited to six cubit feet of personal property, this doesn't apply to California Death Row inmates

10.  They get to wear jeans and chambray shirts

This description of life on California's Death Row is getting lots of attention -- all because Billy Joe Johnson's request has taken flight.  The prison authorities have good reasons for each of the list's purported "benefits" -- for example, Death Row inmates get more than 6 cubic feet of personal property space because their cases are so voluminous, they need more square footage than that for all the paperwork that their defense requires.  Similarly, they get more lenient phone rules than the usual inmate because they are literally fighting for their lives and there are times when communication with their counsel by phone is immediately needed and legally vital. 

Still, proponents of the Death Penalty may look upon this list with outrage and think that Billy Joe Johnson is somehow working the system by asking to die.  And, if that enables the Death Penalty Information Center's study on costs to get more footing, great. 

Because the goal is to end the death penalty, and if capital punishment is stopped for no other reason that it costs too much, fine.  The goal is to stop the State form killing people, period.

New DPIC Study Urges Repeal of Death Penalty On Solely a Budgetary Basis just as California inmate asks for death to get nicer Death Row digs

Today's news includes the story about the Death Penalty Information Center's new study of capital punishment costs.  Released this week, and looking solely at the bottom line, the DPIC analysis demonstrates that significant monies can be saved by eliminating the death penalty.  Since 1976, $2,000,000,000 (that's two billion dollars) has been spent on capital punishment in the United States that would not have been spent if the death penalty were not an option. 

Sure, the DPIC released its study this week in a blatant argument that today's financial times call for the end of the death penalty, regardless of the other huge arguments against capital punishment - morally, ethically, etc.   From the DPIC study:"[t]he promised benefits from the death penalty have not materialized .... If more states choose to end the death penalty, it will hardly be missed, and the economic savings will be significant."

Also in today's news:  an inmate in California is asking to be sentenced to death.  Why?  He's wanting to live on Death Row, because the prison facilities on California's Death Row are so much nicer than his current prison digs.   Billy Joe Johnson is serving 45 years for murder, and is in lockdown almost 24/7 every day.  He's waiting for the jury to return on a second murder charge -- he's been convicted, and he is waiting for his sentence.  Billy Jo is asking for his jury to come back with death, so he can move into a better residence. 

Seems like Billy Joe is helping the budgetary argument that the DPIC is advancing much more than he probably knows.  If any state budget should be looking for ways to cut costs, it's probably California....

Note:  The DPIC has published its new report on its website if you are interesting in reading the entire study.  Alteratively, the DPIC is offering a synopsis on its site if you don't want to go thru all the details.

New Tool for Those Involved in the Death Penalty Fight: a Searchable Database of Death Row Inmates that can be Edited

The Death Penalty Information Center is providing details on their website regarding a new online tool for those interested in the death penalty.  Created by, an entire database of information on Death Row inmates in this country has been provided for our free use. 

What's encouraging about this particular project is that this new database can be edited, so if you have details about any of the inmates, you can add it to the site, correct errors, etc.   You can search the list via name, state, birthdate, and other criteria.  Today, a quick search of all Death Row inmates in the State of Florida turned up 8 pages of results.

Texas Governor Rick Perry Makes History at 200 Executions with the Death of Terry Hawkins Last Night

The role of state governors cannot be underestimated in any death penalty case: this one man or woman has the ability to save a life by commuting a death sentence to one of life imprisonment. Rick Perry has been known to exercise this power and commute death sentences in the past, but not this week.

Governor Rick Perry Makes U.S. History

This week, Rick Perry far surpasses the infamous 152 executions of Texas Governor George W. Bush with the execution of Terry Lee Hankins on June 2, 2009. In fact, Hankins' death brought Perry's capital punishment total to a record-breaking 200 deaths.

That's right. Two hundred. 200.

With this record, Rick Perry has insured his place in history as the governor who has allowed more executions to take place in his state than any other governor in U.S. history.

A Remarkable Feat, Especially Considering Criminal Justice in Texas Right Now

Amazing as this is, Perry's landmark is even more incredulous given that he is governor of the same state where:

  1. the Innocence Project in Dallas has found a record number of wrongful convictions using DNA genetic testing and analysis (many of them being Death Row convictions of innocent men);

  2. the Harris County (Houston) Crime Lab, which handles a huge work volume, is notoriously known for a "team mentality" that has generated numerous false convictions; and

  3. the Chief Justice of the highest state court overseeing criminal matters, Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is being tried AND impeached for her bad acts involving a failed motion to stay the conviction of Death Row inmate Michael Richard.

Protests Against Governor Perry Come From All Over the Globe

Formal protests against this 200th Execution reached all over Texas and the nation, indeed throughout the world, with groups as far as Leipzig, Germany; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; and Montreal, Canada, organizing formal demonstrations against the 200th Texas execution. A website has been created to unify the various protests at

If you would like to voice your opinion to Governor Perry, please feel free to do so: he can be reached at (512) 463-1782.

In-Depth Look at the Law: Does the Florida Death Penalty by Lethal Injection Violate the Constitution?

I have real concerns about the constitutionality of the current means of capital punishment here in Florida - and really, in most of the country today. And it's not just me - many Death Penalty Qualified Defense attorneys here in Florida share the same concern regarding execution by lethal injection.


There is a strong argument that execution by lethal injection violates both the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. In the next series of scholarly posts that appear here on the blog every Friday, we'll be looking at this issue.

The State and Federal Constitutions forbid foreseeable and unnecessary pain in the execution of an individual.

Much of the language that you will be seeing here is language that commonly appears in motions filed by counsel representing defendants who have been sentenced to death by the State of Florida. It's a solid and sturdy argument against the use of lethal injection, and there are many attorneys, legal scholars, professors, sociologists, and other professionals, who stand on this position:

Both the Florida and the U.S. Constitutions forbid the infliction of unnecessary pain -- that is, any pain that could reasonably be avoided -- in the execution of a sentence of death. The courts have ruled that the infliction of a severe punishment by the state cannot comport with human dignity when it is unnecessary and nothing more than the pointless infliction of suffering. Furthermore, [p]unishments are held to be cruel when they involve . . . a lingering death. In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 447 (1890); see also Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 125 S.Ct. 2117, 2122,158 L.Ed. 2d 924 (2004).

A punishment is particularly constitutionally offensive - and therefore, illegal -- if it involves the foreseeable infliction of suffering. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 273 (1973). Such things as (1) the probable length of time the condemned remains conscious of the process; (2) the physical or psychological pain he or she suffers during this period; and (3) the time it takes for death to occur must all be taken into consideration in determining whether a means of execution violates the constitution. See Fierro v. Gomez, 865 F. Supp. 1387, 1413 (N.D. Cal. 1994), aff'd, 77 F.3d 301, 308 (9th Cir. 1996), vacated on other grounds, 519 U.S. 918 (1996).

The Analogy of Death by Inhalation of Lethal Gas

In the Fierro case, execution by the inhaling of poisonous gas in a gas chamber was being considered. The court explained what it found to be a lingering death and foreseeable suffering:

[D]eath by this method [lethal gas] is not instantaneous. Death is not extremely rapid or within a matter of seconds. Rather . . . inmates are likely to be conscious for anywhere from fifteen seconds to one minute from the time that the gas strikes their face and during this period of consciousness, the condemned inmate is likely to suffer intense physical pain from air hunger; symptoms of air hunger include intense chest pains . . . acute anxiety, and struggling to breathe.

The" Three Drug Cocktail" Used in Florida Executions by Lethal Injection -it's really three injections, not just one.

While much of the lethal injection process is shrouded in secrecy in this state, it has been determined that the Florida execution process involves the injection of numerous chemical substances:

1. The first substance administered is an anesthetic -- sodium Pentothal, an ultrashort-acting barbiturate that causes the inmate to go to sleep for a very short time in ordinary doses.

2. Next, the person being executed is administered a neuromuscular blocking agent, pancuronium bromide, (brand name Pavulon), a curare-derived agent which paralyzes all skeletal or voluntary muscles, but which has no effect whatsoever on awareness, cognition or sensation.

3. Finally, the condemned is administered the agent actually designed to cause death -- potassium chloride, a chemical which causes death by cardiac arrest, an extremely painful process that activates nerve fibers in the veins as the drug proceeds through the prisoner's system and ultimately interferes with the rhythmic contractions of the heart and stops its beating.

See generally Deborah W. Denno, When Legislatures Delegate Death: The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses of Electrocution and Lethal Injection and What it Says about Us, 63 Ohio St. L.J.63, 95-99 (2002) (discussing the chemicals used in lethal injection and their medical effects).

Therefore, far from producing rapid loss of consciousness and a humane death, this particular combination of chemicals chosen by the State of Florida causes the inmate to suffer an excruciatingly painful, protracted death.

The sequence of the administration of the chemicals, and failure to provide professional medical monitoring of the effects of the drugs, virtually assure that the actual pain and fear being suffered by the execution victim -- the very things by which a court can judge whether a method of execution transgresses the constitutional standards -- will go undetected. (See, Denno, 63 Ohio St. L.J. at 100.)

Next week, in part two of the series, the three drugs that make up the Florida execution cocktail are discussed in detail.

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